Tag Archives: Alamo Drafthouse

No Time to Die (2021)

I’m still not entirely comfortable with the fact that all of the Daniel Craig Bond films have shared a continuity and an ongoing story arc. I mean, yes, it’s great from a storytelling perspective. But it’s not really how James Bond movies work, traditionally?

The main thing to know about No Time to Die, aside from that yes it is a part of the same continuity and same ongoing story, is that it’s the last of the Craig films. What that will mean for future storylines is at this time unclear to me, but this arc has come to a satisfying conclusion.

It’s extremely hard to want to say anything else at all, which is from my perspective a good sign about the depth and breath of storytelling at play. But okay, here goes: Bond has retired from service, an outcome that is not entirely shocking given the conclusion of Spectre. But an old friend pulls him back in, just in time to discover a plot involving some of the most dangerous near-future tech imaginable, wielded with surgical precision by a man with a bone to pick.

Later, lots of spy stuff happens, featuring chases, explosions, gun and fist fights, etc. It’s a James Bond movie, yo. Also, there’s an emotional arc, and all of the women have agency and intrinsic value outside of Bond’s sphere of awareness. So it’s perhaps not your father’s James Bond movie.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

I’m not here for the idea of making links to a bunch of previous movies, but some quick and uncertain mental math tells me that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings relies on four previous and mostly unconnected MCU movies[1] to explain its backstory. (Six if you care about the Blip.) None of these movies include Shang-Chi in a credited role, or even acknowledge his existence. And I mean… I’ve read within a small rounding error of 100% of 25 years’ worth of Marvel comics, so I’m obviously here for it, but that is noticeable weight of continuity to labor under, you know?

Anyway, the plot is the plot and yes I want to see it again, but nobody is interested in an MCU spoiler review, not even two weeks late like this one basically is. But between a pre-verbal child and Covid, it’s harder to get to the theater on time than it used to be, you know?

What I am interested in is the things that were cribbed from the comics, with which I have a more than passing familiarity[2]. Master of Kung Fu (as a comic) focused on two things. First, both in importance and chronology, a generation-later retelling of the old Fu Manchu stories with a lot of those characters still in play. Fu Manchu is as yellow-perily as ever, and the British spies who oppose him are likewise as clichedly British. Only, now he (Fu) has a daughter set up as his heir apparent[3], and a finely-honed, kung fu assassin trained son who has turned against him for being, y’know, evil and whatnot. And second, once the comic wasn’t all Fu all the time, it also focused on being a British spy agency story in which Shang-Chi traveled the world with James Bond’s nephew[4] doing superhero-adjacent spy stuff and living out a spy-girlfriend relationship with a Fleetwood Mac soundtrack.

The movie only focuses on the first of those, except obviously not using Fu Manchu and instead pulling in the so-called Mandarin and his ten rings, by way of the terrorist organization we’ve seen before, all the way back in the very first MCU movie. But then it also pulls in a lot of Iron Fist’s mythology, what with an extra-dimensional kung fu city that you can only get to every so many time intervals, unless you know secret ways; and also, their kung fu is magical wuxia kung fu. Sad to be the guy who played Danny Rand in the Netflix show, but zero percent sad to see the expert martial artist not be some random white dude.

My point, if indeed I had one, is that if you were going to cram a mildly problematic Iron Man villain named the Mandarin together with Marvel’s two martial arts characters, this is pretty much the best way to have done so. And furthermore, if you weren’t going to cram those together into one story but instead spread them out among three, well, probably you should cram them together instead.

[1] And a “Marvel One-Shot” that I’d seen before as a Blu-ray extra, which was released on Disney+ two weeks before Shang-Chi’s release date, to minimal fanfare.
[2] While that is a verified fresh statement, I honestly didn’t remember most of these things until the end of the movie. I spent like 2 hours saying to myself “I don’t remember Shang-Chi having a sister,” for example, until suddenly I was all “oh yeah” instead.
[3] Not that he intends to ever do anything so gauche or pedestrian as dying, but still: contingencies.
[4] Among others, but the more important point is that I’m serious about that.

The Invisible Man (2020)

Then, on Friday night, I went to see another movie. Woo, movies!

Except, not so high as all that on the “woo!” factor, because what I saw was The Invisible Man, which… man. I don’t know where to go here. The thing is, this is a legitimately good movie, and arguably it’s a legitimately important movie on top of that, and (also arguably) Elisabeth Moss is the finest actress of her generation. At minimum, she’s the best there is at what she does, which is be compellingly emotionally injured.

But goddamn. Leaving aside the subject matter[1], which should be hard for anyone to watch (although it probably is not, and I weep for some of my fellow so-called humans) and definitely would be hard for a segment of the population to watch, the movie is also unceasingly tense, after the first 30 seconds or so. The longest period in which it let up was for maybe five minutes, and this only happened the one time. I can’t recommend it to anyone for that reason alone. So stressful!

But it is seriously good, and seriously important. It’s just even more than either of those seriously unpleasant. Basically, if you are aware of the concept of gaslighting, watch at your own risk. If you are not, or if you don’t really believe in it, watching is mandatory. Not that, if you somehow disbelieve in that concept, you would listen to me here.

But you should.

[1] Another plot summary by footnote: don’t mind if I do! Aforementioned Elisabeth Moss escapes an abusive relationship, only to discover that she has not. Because, seriously, you know who can get away with pretty much any damn thing? A rich techbro who is also invisible. Or! Could it possibly all be in her head?

Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

So, I did it! I got the Alamo Season Pass thingy, which this is not a commercial for, but one free movie a day is kind of great? I have to go twice a month to not lose money on the deal, and I want to go a lot more than that, although I think there’s a tiny human hoping to thwart my plans. …who will probably succeed. But for now, salad days[1]!

Upshot, on Thursday we saw Birds of Prey, a movie about which I have non-controversial opinions. To recap, I thought the Wonder Woman movie was great at being the first female-led superhero movie, but the actual film itself has not aged well for me outside that context. It’s perfectly cromulent as a superhero movie but no more than that. I thought Aquaman was shockingly good, better than it had any right to be, and therefore maybe a half-rank above “perfectly cromulent etc”? The rest of the modern DC movies are hot garbage at best, including Suicide Squad, except that Harley Quinn was revelatory in it.

All of that to say: Birds of Prey would fall on a tier maybe just above hot garbage, except for that fantabulous emancipation bit. As nearly as I can determine, Margot Robbie was born to play this role. (She seems to think so too, given her heavy involvement in getting the movie made.) This is basically Harley’s transition from the Joker’s emotionally manipulated girlfriend to chaotic good trending neutral antihero, and she’s hilarious every step of the way. Plus, the narration! I will keep watching her make these movies as long as she’s interested.

[1] I have no idea what that means. What it conveys, yes. What it means that results in conveying that: not a clue.

Fantasy Island

If you’re like me[1], when you saw the preview’s for Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island, you thought, “Hey, awesome, someone is adapting the old Fantasy Island TV show as a movie, but instead of romance or whatever, it’s horror!” And this is largely exactly what happened. You have your people arriving at the island, you have Mr. Roarke greeting them all and promising that not only will their fantasies be fulfilled, but that it is mandatory to fulfill them to the [bitter] end, you have two A plots and two B plots interweaving amongst one another, now and then interacting. Which is a lot of plots for a TV episode, but about right for a movie I reckon? In any case, I got exactly what I expected, and honestly it was pretty good for what it is.

My caveat is, I never actually saw an episode of Fantasy Island. I saw a great deal of advertisements for it and its shared timeslot with The Love Boat in my misspent youth, but I largely gave both of them a pass. So I pulled up the Wikipedia article for a refresher[2] just before writing my review, and the wry twist is this: except for what are largely PG-13 horror trappings that only borderline at best couldn’t be shown on network TV, and definitely unairable R-rated language, I had completely misjudged my comparison. Because the TV show? “Instead of romance or whatever” doesn’t really apply. It actually already was more or less horror with fantasy-the-genre trappings, and it’s entirely fair to view this movie as a prequel in which Roarke as host of the island learns that it’s okay to intervene just a little bit, so people can have happy, or at least morally informative, or at the very least mostly non-fatal, endings.

Luckily, though, the movie works just fine under my initial misconception too. It’s just that I sort of regret that I never watched the TV show, now.

Lastly, apropos of nothing else in particular, it is important to note that Ryan Hansen’s lucrative career of playing Dick Casablancas in every role for which he is hired continues unimpeded.

[1] Disregarding the “awesome” bit, I mean
[2] Well, for a fresher, I suppose.

It Chapter Two

Remember that time where they took my very favorite book and made it into half of a movie? Somehow, that was two years ago. Good news: the name pf the sequel is in fact fine.

It Chapter Two does what was promised: we pick up the story a generation later, with the adult characters coming back to Derry to do what they promised, if there was a need. Pennywise is back, and he must be faced again in an apocalyptic showdown. But not before a lot of revisiting the past, both with additional flashbacks that sated my need for more scenes from that wholly non-idyllic summer of their youth and with the kind of revisiting the past that adults more traditionally do, gawking in disbelief at how the things that seemed so big and important now seem so small and far away. But with monsters.

I’ll never really be able to explain why the source material for these movies is so powerful to me. Because the above reads like it’s meant to be a joke, and not even a well-enough crafted joke to justify having made it, when the truth is I meant it sincerely. It’s like, King’s meditations on small town mid-century American childhood ring so true to me. And I know I’ll never actually know, because I was never there, two different ways, but it generates the kind of nostalgia in me that powers a political party. Except he tells the truth via his metaphor, because in fact everything was just as bad then as it is now. There’s a monster who comes back every so often to devour children.

Literally? Metaphorically?

Yes.

But I digress. The last thing I’ll say is that although it took me an hour or so turning it over in my mind, I’ve decided that they stuck the landing. It has a very strange climax, which could not possibly translate to a screen. At least, I don’t think so. I know that everyone made fun of the television series ending, which held onto the literal half of the book’s climax and scrapped the metaphysical version entirely, even though it’s a 50/50 split. This movie, on the other hand, leans about 80/20 metaphysical/literal, which also I think loses something, but does play up the difficulty inherent to a climactic battle with a being that is only slightly literally real.

One thing you will not see the people of 2019 saying is, “Seriously? After all those transformations, Pennywise the Dancing Clown is just a big $spoiler? Seriously?!” When people said that in 1990, they at least had the virtue of a semi-valid complaint. Barely. So, it’s a good thing to avoid.

Anyway. I think the kids did a better job than the adults, mostly, although I cannot deny that the adults did an excellent job of selling that they were the same people 27 years later. I also need to give props to Bill Skarsgård, who has supplanted Tim Curry in my mind’s eye as who Pennywise is. That’s impressive.

Not a bad way to spend three hours, although next time I won’t do it at an 11pm show after a 12 hour day at work. (I hope.)

Pokémon Detective Pikachu

During the credits for Detective Pikachu, I learned that the movie was based on a video game of the same name, which I had not been aware existed. So I guess this is technically a video game movie? Well, I guess Pokémon in general are from a video game, so that’s not really a revelation after all. Nevermind.

This is a kidmovie, mainly inasmuch as Pokémon is a kidgame. The good thing about this is that it doesn’t really reveal its colors until the too-neat denouement, and if I’m being realistic, lots of movies are wrapped up with a bow that are not strictly speaking aimed at kids. Still, this was, and its too-neat bow-wrapping was definitely kid-oriented.

Except for that, it turns out to be really good? Well, important caveat: if you like the tiny pokemen upon which its hat is hung. I am just barely the target audience for this movie, mostly because of all the Pokémon Go I’ve played. But they did an incredible job both of making the creatures that I guess replaced animals in the evolution of this particular world seem completely alive and real and part of the scenery, and also of giving those creatures personalities that were, at least on a per species scale, unique and identifiable. Okay, the last thing sounds less cool than it is, because there’s not much involved in making a monkey pokeman act like a monkey. But trust me: they did an amazing job of bringing the world to life, in every particular.

The plot? Well, our hero, Tim Goodman[1], who has given up on his dreams of being a Pokémon trainer to start a career in insurance, goes to a place not literally named Pokémon City to investigate his policeman father’s mysterious death. Well, no, to settle his estate, there’s no way the guy I just described would be investigating anything, except that his father’s Pokémon partner (everyone in the city has one, it’s not a cop thing) is Ryan Reynolds wearing a pikachu suit and a detective hat. Together, they… well, you know. Like I said, it’s a kidmovie at heart. It’s just a really excellently executed one, if you are down with the P.

[1] No, really.

Happy Death Day 2U

At the very beginning of Happy Death Day, while the Universal logo is appearing, they did something clever. It hitches like a record scratch and restarts, twice, before proceeding. Just enough to let you know what you’re getting into, right?

Happy Death Day 2U starts with a mild similarity, in which the hitch splits the screen in two, and then in three. Which, if you don’t know what they’re going for, I guess it would be a spoiler to tell you? But anyway, my point here is mostly to say that I believe the science fiction slasher movie is wholly untrodden ground, and they deserve props for this alone.

Except for the slight genre shift, though, the movie follows an extremely important rule of horror movie sequels, first spoken by Joe Bob Briggs more than thirty years ago[1], and here I am paraphrasing: Just make the same damn movie as you did the first time. (In some ways this movie takes the advice even more literally than is typical, but that stands to reason.) But yeah. Starts on the same day the last movie ended? Yes indeed. Follows (mostly) the same characters who are faced with (essentially) the same problems? Aye. Rule: followed!

The plot is so full of holes that it would more properly be referred to as a colander, but neither movie takes itself very seriously, so that’s fine. Plus, the more serious parts are actually thoughtful and touching, which gives them even more leeway as far as I’m concerned. As long as they keep the same cast and (I presume) writers/directors, I will cheerfully watch (and probably rewatch) these movies in perpetuity.

[1] Citation needed.[2]
[2] Haha, beat you to it. It’s possible I could find it, if he was writing for the Dallas paper that still exists and if they have internetted their 1980s archives. I first read it in a book of collected columns, so.

Aquaman

For once, my long delay in seeing a big event movie did not work against me! This is because, as nearly as I can tell, nobody else has actually seen Aquaman yet, so being a month late still gets me first out the gate. Exciting!

And a little sad, because this is probably second best of the, what, six now? DC movies that have come out. If you had asked me to predict that I would consider Aquaman a quality movie, after having considered him lamest of the lame all throughout childhood, well, that is not a prediction I would have made.

I mean, am I claiming it’s a great work of art? I am not. But it’s big, it’s bright, it’s flashy, it has an overstuffed with drama plot full of monologuing villains, lost heirs, fate of the world stakes, an (okay, this is more of a negative) overly-forced romance subplot… in short, it’s everything you want out of a comic book movie. Notably, it is not dark or grim or overwrought or in love with its visual or emotional sense of deep, unfixable misery. Y’know, not unlike the other really good DC movie.

So, yes, I did genuinely enjoy it. But even if I hadn’t, I would have probably rated it the second best DC movie regardless. Because now there’s a much smaller chance that Marvel will make a movie about the goddamned Sub-Mariner[1]. A victory for us all!

[1] Maybe that’s why I found myself actually liking Arthur Curry. Because Namor is a lot closer in tenor and attitude to King Orm than to Aquaman.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

If I think about Ant-Man and the Wasp outside the context of the comics in general and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in particular, it is an anodyne, albeit fun, heist movie sequel, which I have no idea if I would have bothered to watch. But there’s something to be said for a summer popcorn chase movie, and even if there weren’t, I do not think about these things outside their context very often. (Also, most heist / chase movies are not able to use a building[1] as the constantly stolen and restolen object, so that’s pretty cool. Thanks, Pym Particles!)

As a Marvel movie, it’s, yknow, also an anodyne heist movie. Better than Ant-Man, both in how it treated its heroes and its villains[2]. Solidly middle of the pack as a Marvel movie overall, and considering that I like these pretty well as a collective, middle of the pack is good news for me!

Also? Best blanket fort of all time. Including the one in Community.

[1] I’ve just realized that the internal physics of this pair of movies are irretrievably broken.
[2] While I’m not exactly classifying Hank Pym as a villain here, I do appreciate how his jerkish, just barely this side of bad guy, behavior actually ends up having consequences. (Though I could wish fewer of them were to his shrunk out of existence wife.)